Not having a rooting interest in this year’s Fall Classic for the first time in four years afforded me the opportunity to reaffirm my deep appreciation for baseball.
Watching the Anaheim Angels’ offense was a lesson in fundamentals. I couldn’t help but think how much better the game might be if a player like David Eckstein was the norm as opposed to the exception. His grittiness and work ethic are exemplary of the ideals of a baseball player.
But then I realized that I had been fortunate enough to watch several professional teams filled with players like Eckstein while working as the public address announcer for the New Haven Ravens of the Double-A Eastern League this summer. Probably for this very reason, minor league baseball has flourished throughout the country in recent years. Unfortunately for area baseball fans, New Haven has lagged behind that trend.
The Ravens were moderately successful during their first few seasons following their 1994 inception, but in recent years the franchise has consistently been in the basement of league attendance rankings. This low turnout arises despite the Ravens’ 2000 Eastern League championship and another playoff appearance this past summer.
Many reasons have been offered for the Ravens’ struggles in past years, ranging from the 75-year-old Yale Field to poor support and regard by the surrounding communities. There have even been rumors that the team could leave New Haven in the future. And while that is not totally out of the question, area baseball fans have good reason to be optimistic about the team’s future: General Manager Adam Schierholz ’87, who just completed his first season with the Ravens after several years in the corporate world.
But why should anyone care about minor league baseball? Well, any time you turn on a major league baseball game and see a player not run out an at-bat or not go all-out to make a defensive play, remember that in minor league stadiums all across the country players give 110 percent just for a chance to crack the big leagues. Whereas the big leagues are tainted in various ways, the minors are still pure. And such is the case for 71 games from April to September at Yale Field.
Schierholz played football and baseball at Yale, but his careers in both sports were plagued by injuries. Well aware of the criticisms about the age of the stadium, Schierholz has decided to use the stadium’s 75 years of history to the team’s advantage.
“All of these modern stadiums are being built to emulate certain features of old ballparks,” Schierholz said. “We have all of those features right here; we just need to use them and highlight them. The Ravens are going to have an old-time baseball feel next year. We are going to have a timeline of pictures and history in the concourse, featuring players from different ages who have played and appeared here, from Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig, George H.W. Bush, and Derek Jeter.”
The reason many new stadiums are recreating the old-time feel is because teams want fans to think of the time when calling baseball America’s pastime was not the misnomer it is today.
Next year, New Haven will feature a historic stadium with players who approach the game the same way many of the past generations did. When you head to your local minor league ballpark, you may be lucky and get to see the next Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire in action. But you will definitely see a plethora of David Eckstein types on the diamond.
And that’s special. That is why New Haven benefits greatly from having a minor league baseball team. It’s cheaper, more entertaining, and it lacks major league complacency.
It’s how baseball should be.